Law & Order to air episode based on Dr. Tiller's murder

Tonight’s Law & Order episode will be based on the murder of Dr. George Tiller: a late-term abortion provider is murdered while attending church. The episode, titled “Dignity,” will have “some significant twists of plot and character, with police officers and assistant district attorneys sometimes taking forceful stands on one side of the abortion debate or the other, only to later express doubt when their involvement in the case becomes more personal.”

Here’s a preview, with commercials:

Dick Wolf, the producer of Law & Order says the episode will be a “balanced, thought-provoking drama about abortion.” (Did you notice how they used the term “abortion-provider” in the preview instead of “abortionist”?)

Television has a pretty wimpy track record when it comes to covering abortion in a “balanced, thought-provoking way.” Most women who face an unplanned pregnancy on TV are eventually convinced that keeping their baby is the right thing to do, and if they’re not totally convinced, there’s usually a cop-out situation, such as a miscarriage, to conveniently spare the woman from making a decision.

I’m intrigued by the Law & Order episode though, because the drama doesn’t focus on a woman and an unplanned pregnancy, but on the murder of a provider of late-term abortions. They’ve had two episodes on abortion in the past; both dealt with the murders of activists: “Progeny” with the murder of an abortion provider and “Life Choice” the death of an anti-abortion activist in an abortion-center bombing.

But maybe it’s misleading to say these episodes “deal with abortion.” The shows seem to speak more about radical activism and hard party lines rather than a woman’s personal experience with unplanned pregnancy. Given the lack of good representations of unplanned pregnancy on TV, approaching abortion from an activist angle could be a good way of discussing abortion in mainstream television. According to episode previews (see below), it seems like it’s not going to be treated as a black-and-white issue, which I’m glad to hear. That being said, I still think it’s important to keep abortion in a social sphere rather than a political sphere, because when it’s framed in an entirely as a political issue, divorced from a woman’s real-life experience, a lot of the more nuanced issues of abortion get lost in rhetoric.

Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly says that towards the end of the show, “the drama runs more deeply, more effectively, because characters behave like humans. They think and reconsider; they debate and shift their positions slightly, this way and that.” Whether or not this will further instill abortion’s depiction as an either/or situation or give it the nuanced, real-life context it deserves remains to be seen. If you watch it tonight be sure to comment your thoughts!

NBC’s ‘Law & Order’ to Take on Abortion Issue [New York Times]

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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8 Comments Have Been Posted

Law and Order

As a huge fan of old school L&O's from the first 10 seasons, I am very intrigued to see how they will deal with abortion in tonight's episode. Life Choice is one of my favorite episodes ever, mostly because it evaluated the Anti-Choice movement critically, while not demonizing them. The other thing that I felt L&O did so well early on was developing the characters' opinions, and showing that American justice is complicated and rife with bias, racism, and prejudice. The prosecution lost, the good guys did not always win, and justice was not always served; but that was what made the watcher think. All that being said, I am anxious to see how this episode will stack up in terms of thought-provoking and relevant story. I am always leery of newer episodes, because I feel that the characters are not nearly as believable and well-developed, with the exception of Jack McCoy and Anita Van Buren (probably because they were conceived long ago). I am determined to give Linus Roache a change in his role as ADA, but he has big shoes to fill (Ben Stone and McCoy were fascinating). Alana De La Garza is a marked improvement over recent assistant ADA's, who were often relegated to keeping McCoy in check. But let's be real, Jill Hennesey's "Claire Kincaid" is still the standard by which I judge all of them.

currently watching the episode

I'm in the middle of watching the episode. So far, it seems more sympathetic to an anti-choice outlook. One thing has come up during the episode that I have a question about. The murdered doctor was said to have delivered a live baby, and then killed the baby at the request of the mother. Does anyone know if that could really happen?

The right thing is done in

The right thing is done in the end in convicting the killer, but the theme of the episode seems to be promoting the anti-choice rhetoric rather than presenting an unbiased view. It's almost like they're saying, "Abortion is ethically wrong always, but don't go killing the people that provide it."

The whole time I was watching the episode, though, I found myself thinking, "All of this is good and dandy but the mother in this situation didn't want the baby. Isn't that what should matter in the end?" I don't know. I kinda believe that it's not about whether abortion is right or wrong -- no one should be forced to mother if they can't do it, or don't have the means to do it. So the whole rhetoric this show eventually went into was really annoying to me. Especially the converting of the pro-choice lawyer by the end, I kinda just rolled my eyes and went, "How convienient."

i was disappointed too

I was surprised at how obviously slanted the episode was. After doing so good on U.S. government torture a few weeks ago, I was hoping for more. I had the same problems with the show that you listed.

Thanks for posting!

Thanks for posting your reactions! It sounds like it was pretty disappointing in the pro-choice department.

One commenter on <a href="">Facebook </a>brought up the point that late-term abortions are not necessarily unplanned pregnancies, a point I overlooked in my original post. Can any of you who watched the episode speak to how this played out on L&O?

It really didn't play out

It really didn't play out well for pro-choice belief. Issues about medical conditions being a pre-requisite for most late term abortions was mentioned, but it really wasn't presented as being the most ethical choice a person could make. The whole dying with dignity thing made it seem like if you choose not to let your baby suffer and eventually die anyway, then you really have no soul at all. The way everything was presented was designed to go straight for the heart, make you teary and emotional, and all for the pro-life way of seeing this issue. So there really was no room to present equally emotional arguments for choice.

To me, it really seemed that they planned to write this as a pro-life episode all along. It's not just that it was slanted so horribly towards that side that bothers me, but that the whole episode really seemed disrespectful to the real life case it was based on. Particularly us finding out that the murdered doctor was an actual baby killer after all. I don't know. The whole episode just left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Congratulations, L & O

I thought they did an amazing job at presenting the hard facts. As a feminist *and* a pro-lifer, I felt it presented a very balanced view of some vastly different situations, with the end result being completely right-- the death of the doctor was absolutely wrong and disturbing (as is the real-life situation), and no matter how against his politics or career path someone is, it's never OK to take a life. I really loved the quote toward the end from McCoy in which he said something about how he would expect more pro-lifers to reject the death penalty (I do), and more humanitarians to protect a fetus' rights (correct again).

There is a reason

There is a reason many pro-lifers are pro-death penalty and pro-war, just as many humanitarians are pro-choice, anti-death penalty, anti-war and even vegan/vegetarian for that matter. There is an absolute link between these things and if people, like McCoy, don't understand it, it may be a matter of not having found that link yet.

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